Our fight for professional voice

AFT public employees help advance work of task force on professionalism

THE AFT Task Force on Professionalism continues refining what it means to be a professional, identifying our members’ needs and considering what actions unions must take to eliminate barriers against professionalism. The task force met in October after a series of listening sessions in which it gathered members’ ideas, all toward drafting a resolution to present to our union.

Task force chair and AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker welcomed members, who discussed aspects of professionalism, including continuing education, autonomy and respect. The meeting Oct. 1-2 in New Orleans immediately preceded the AFT’s annual Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference.

The task force is committed to “lifelong learning and continually dedicating ourselves to advancing in our fields of expertise.”

Valuing social capital

Members heard from researcher Carrie Leana, a professor of organizations and management at the University of Pittsburgh who studies what makes groups function. Leana shared empirical evidence measuring both human and social capital; human capital reflects individual knowledge and skills, while social capital is new knowledge generated when peers interact and share.

One thing that makes workplaces better is social capital, which unlike human capital has received little attention, whether in government agencies, healthcare centers or other public facilities.

For example, in nursing, empathetic care is a combination of behaviors, Leana said, including going the extra mile, cultivating relationships with patients and colleagues, and engaging emotionally. However, even empathy can be lost under unfavorable working conditions like high patient load.
What’s more, she added, heavy workloads and financial hardship have a taxing effect on the brain, taking a cognitive and emotional toll. Research shows a relationship between burnout and turnover. If workers feel high empathy but low efficacy, they’re likely to leave.

Public employees, educators and healthcare professionals already know that collaboration is key, Ricker pointed out: “Human capital versus social capital describes virtually every negotiating table I’ve sat at.”

Being heard

Lisa Ochs, president of AFT Kansas, and Joseph Dompier, a regional representative with the Montana Federation of Probation and Parole, described how public employees’ work lives at times can be dictated by the whims of state legislators. Task force members urged fellow members not to lose heart even in the face of heartbreaking setbacks and powerful opponents.

The task force will recommend actions the AFT can take that will enable our union to be considered a champion of dignity and respect in the workplace, as well as the gatekeeper of professionalism.

The task force continues to gather ideas from AFT members through their program and policy councils, and is reviewing a draft of its work. This will lead to a resolution that will be put before the union’s executive council next May, in advance of the AFT national convention in July.

In the meantime, you can follow and contribute to the conversation on Twitter at #AFTpro.

Public Employee Advocate, Fall 2015 Download PDF (592.49 KB)
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